This is the 3rd CD from Domingo Hindoyan and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and it’s just as impressive as the previous two. What is obvious is that this orchestra positively adores their new conductor because they play their hearts out for him. Time and time again.
I wasn’t really in the mood for an album of orchestral interludes from Operas, but I was intrigued by the program (some of it initially unfamiliar to me) and was instantly drawn into this concert by what I heard. It’s actually rare nowadays to hear an orchestra so enthusiastic and passionate about what they play - especially for a recording session. Hindoyan has transformed this orchestra into something quite extraordinary, as evidenced everywhere on this CD.
Just as heard in this team’s first recording (ballet music by Debussy, Dukas and Roussel), I am once again enormously impressed with this conductor’s ability to draw such committed and involving playing from his orchestra. In this repertoire, the characterization and endless variety in their music-making are astonishing - vivaciously dancing (Examples: tracks 1 & 7); passionately soaring (tr. 3); achingly tender (tr. 4); dramatic (tr. 14) and lyrically singing (everywhere).
(Detailed track listing appears below for reference.)
I was constantly aware I was listening to opera (as opposed to symphonic music), and I was constantly aware of the Verismo origins. There is an emotional humanity to it. Yet Hindoyan never applies a heavy hand with ostentatious emoting or excessive rubato. He allows the music to unfold with natural inspiration and exhilarating forward momentum. Dynamic contrasts, in particular, are remarkable - lending a marvelous grandness to the dramatic action inherent in this music. Further, there are many passages which are very exciting, which is rather unexpected in this type of music. Moreover, the variety of the musical selections is spellbinding - alternating between lyrical and dramatic, beautifully singing and invigorating, familiar and unfamiliar - captivating the listener's attention from beginning to end.
What makes this concert so special is the impassioned sound Hindoyan elicits from the strings - the passionate, soaring lines; the exquisite beauty of expression in quiet passages; the sheer body of tone. This string section, en masse, immerses themselves into the drama with voluptuous vibrato (when appropriate), alternating with fast intensity and contrasted with a sweet legato via a lighter, more relaxed vibrato. They are so good at this, they actually remind me of John Wilson’s Sinfonia of London strings - which is high praise indeed.
In the end, what a difference a conductor makes. Comparing this CD to just about anything this orchestra recorded with its previous conductor (Vasily Petrenko) illustrates and illuminates just how fabulous Hindoyan is. The orchestra now has character. And charisma. And while the string section is definitely the star of this show, there’s much more. For instance, just listen to the exquisitely intimate quartet of solo strings at the opening of Puccini's Manon Lescaut and the flute solos in Wolf-Ferrari's Il gioielli della Madonna to witness just how good this orchestra is these days.
The recorded sound is very good if not quite equal to the exalted standards Chandos achieves with the Sinfonia of London (for example). Nor is there quite the silky lushness of the best BIS SACDs. Onyx’s house-sound can be just a touch hard in fortissimos rather than cushioned on air, particularly when the percussion comes crashing in. But dynamics are impressive and certainly make an impact. Further, the Onyx soundstage allows the strings to soar rapturously with glorious tone, rich with saturated colors and textures. Their gorgeous body of sound expands with passion and intensity, while relaxing with delicacy in intimate passages. The acoustic is warm, atmospheric and alive, if not quite as sumptuous as the very best orchestral recordings.
In closing, Hindoyan is a sensation. And the orchestral playing on this CD is positively glamorous. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has struck gold with their new conductor and Onyx Classics has a real superstar on their roster.